Epiphany Sermon| Rev. Rolf Preus| January 7, 2007| Matthew 2:1-12
My have times changed! Angels appeared to shepherds announcing the birth of Christ. A star appeared to wise men, guiding them to where the Christ Child lay. God warned these same men in a dream. When was the last time an angel told you something? Or when was the last time a star guided you to Christ? Has God ever spoken to you in a dream? Times have changed.
But really, things haven’t changed so much. God has always spoken to His people through His written Word, the Holy Scriptures. Consider what happened on that first Epiphany. True, God miraculously provided a star for the Magi to follow. But before the star led them to the infant Jesus they were directed to the Holy Scriptures. The star led them to Jerusalem. But the Baby Jesus was not there. If the star was leading them to the newborn King of the Jews why did it lead them to Jerusalem when the Child was not there? God guided them to Jerusalem so that they might be directed to the Holy Scriptures.
When they arrived in Jerusalem, the Magi naturally asked Herod (who was called King of the Jews) where the true King of the Jews was to be born. If anybody would know, surely he would know. But Herod had no clue. Herod wasn’t even a Jew. He was a descendent of Esau, not Jacob, and he evidenced about as much interest in matters spiritual as Esau did. Herod had to gather together the Bible scholars to learn from them what the Bible said about the birth of the promised Savior. This is what they found in the book of the prophet, Micah:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting. (Micah 5:2)
God sent the star to guide them. God warned them in a dream. But when it came to finding their Savior – the Savior they had traveled many hundreds of miles to worship – they were guided by the infallible words recorded in the Holy Scriptures.
Let this be a lesson to us today! Can God send us signs? Can God speak through visions and dreams? God can do what He chooses. He is God. But note carefully how God chooses to communicate with us. He directs us to His written Word: the Holy Scriptures.
Signs are difficult to interpret. Dreams and visions can be deceiving. But the words written down for us in the Holy Scriptures are as reliable today as when they were first written. The eternal God, “whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting,” would be born in Bethlehem of Judea, David’s town. So said God through the prophet. So it must be. God said it and that settled it.
It is from the Holy Scriptures that we learn to know Christ. Whether we learned the faith at home from devoted Christian parents, or whether we learned in Sunday School or at church during the Divine Service, the source of all we know about Jesus is the Bible. This has always been so.
Consider an interesting historical fact. From the time of Jacob’s death until the ascension of King Herod to the throne the Jews were ruled by men of Jewish blood. Listen to what the dying Jacob said to his fourth son, Judah, from whom the Jews received their name:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes;
And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. (Genesis 49:10)
The scepter did not depart from Judah even during the Babylonian Captivity. But the scepter finally did depart from Judah when King Herod, who was not a Jew, became the king of the Jews. This could only mean one thing. It was time for Shiloh to come. Shiloh means, “Man of peace.” And so the angels said to the shepherds as His birth, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”
Herod knew he had no divine claim to rule over God’s people. His political position was always tenuous at best. And, as is usually the case with politicians who are cynical about religious matters, Herod assumed that everyone else was a cynical politician as well. This is why he was so afraid of the Baby Jesus. Surely, Jesus would grow up to challenge Herod’s throne, power, and influence!
What a sad delusion, but a very common one. Jerusalem was God’s holy city. It was where the temple was. It was where God met with His people to be gracious to them. Their God was coming to visit them. He was coming to fulfill every promise He ever made to them. He was appearing in person to set them free from their sins, from the fear of death, and from the power of Satan. And how did the high and mighty of this holy city respond to His birth? They were in an uproar! Politicians vying for power with other politicians were all afraid of what political implications this Child’s birth would have for them. Living in a world of impressing men and lording it over one another they were blind to the coming into the world of God Himself.
Epiphany means to shine upon. The star is an appropriate symbol. It provides light in the middle of the dark night sky. Jesus is the light of the world. But there are none so blind as those who will not see.
The word “magi” is where we get our English word magician. But the Magi who came to worship Jesus should not be confused with today’s notion of a magician as a trickster who, by sleight of hand, deceives the eyes to see what isn’t there. They were scholars. They studied physics, astronomy (which in those days was inseparable from astrology), history, and other topics. The Bible does not say how many there were. Three is a guess, based on the number of gifts. Their names are unknown. What we do know is that these men were Gentiles and that they came to worship the King of the Jews. They set aside every other concern in their quest to find their Savior and to worship Him.
In this way they speak to us. They clung to the sign. And so do we. Just as God attached the sign of the star to the words of the prophet Micah and so led them to find Jesus where Jesus was to be found, so also God attaches the signs of water and bread and wine to His words of promise. In the water we find Christ’s death and resurrection. In our baptism we are joined to Christ as He dies for us and as He rises from the dead. In the bread and the wine we find the same body that died for us to take away God’s anger and the same blood that washes away all our sin. We cling to these signs. They are for us true sacraments. Christ has joined Himself to them and in them He joins Himself to us. We cannot be misled by these sacred signs, for they are joined to the infallible promises of the written Word of God. Jesus said. So it is. So it will always be.
You have never come to worship Jesus here in this place only to be turned away by your Savior. Not only does He always welcome you, hear your confession of sins, absolve you in His holy Word, and send you home justified, He always receives with great condescension the gifts you give. You may think you have little to give. You may think that what you give is unimportant. You would be wrong to think that way. Think of the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh. Gold was given to the King to signify His wealth. Truly He owns all there is in this world. When you confess Jesus as Lord you give Him gold. Frankincense was given to signify His purity. He was born innocent, lived innocently, and never gave into the temptation to sin. When you confess that Jesus lived a holy life for you as your substitute to fulfill the law for you, you give Him frankincense. Myrrh was given to signify that He would die and be buried. When you confess that Jesus has died on the cross for you and has taken away all your sin you give Him myrrh. The wise men worshipped their King, and we join them in the same worship right here in this place every time we gather together in Jesus’ name.
We come to church to receive the treasures only Christ can give and we come to offer Him our praise. What is it worth? Are our words worth the gold the Magi offered Jesus? Is our offering as precious as their expensive spices? Listen, dear Christian, your gift to your Savior is of tremendous value. I’m not talking about its monetary worth. I’m not talking about any status men will give you. Forget Herod. I’m talking about the value of what you give as it is measured by Him to whom you give it. He treasures what you give because He treasures you. He forgives you all your sins for Christ’s sake. He regards you as holy and precious for Christ’s sake. This makes your offering precious as well. Amen.